What comes to mind when you think of Rio De Janeiro?
Sequin-clad Carnival dancers? Sun-kissed boys in short shorts playing soccer at the beach? A gigantic Jesus statue overlooking a city that never sleeps? Well, it’s all true, but there’s more to Rio than what appears in travel & tourism ads.
I recently spent five unforgettable days in Rio, and saw another side of this vibrant city. Being able to wear flip flops every day of the year has always been a dream of mine, so visiting Rio seemed like the perfect destination to escape the bone-chilling cold of Montreal’s winter. As a first time visitor to Brazil with limited knowledge of the local language, I was often lost in translation, and relied heavily on my body-language reading skills to put two and two together. Luckily, I had a very patient Brazilian friend to guide me along the way. I spent most of my time in the Copacabana Beach, Ipanema Beach, and Leblon Beach areas, as well as the areas surrounding the Christ Redeemer Statue, and Sugar Loaf Mountain. The remainder of my time in Brazil was spent in the suburbs of Sao Paulo, a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of Rio’s tourist-packed areas. There will be more on this in an upcoming post.
I will definitely return to Rio to explore its many neighborhoods. Until then, here are a couple of things I think you should know about Rio de Janeiro:
1. Rio has personality.
The people are passionate, loving, kind, and friendly.
2. Comfort rules.
You’ll see flip flops, and fried comfort food everywhere. Locals are very comfortable in their skin, so don’t be surprised to see men and women in tiny bathing suits at the beach.
3. You’ll see art everywhere.
From sandcastles to graffiti, the colors and styles are distinctly Brazilian. Even the sidewalks are interesting.
4. Some bars close when the last customer leaves.
A special thank you goes out to the manager of the Lord Jim Pub in the Ipanema neighborhood for keeping the bar open for me until 4 a.m. on a Saturday night, so I could watch the end of the St-Pierre vs. Hendricks UFC fight!
5. Watching the sunset from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain is a sight for sore eyes.
Am I right? Or am I right?
6. Most of the beach-front hotels are outdated and over-priced, but you save time and money by staying in a prime location close to all of the action.
You should definitely book a hotel room several months in advance to get the best prices. Prices are significantly lower at hotels just a few blocks away from the beach, yet the services and facilities are comparable.
7. Christ the Redeemer is the largest art deco statue in the world
The 98-foot-tall “Cristo Redentor” truly is one of the 7 Wonders of the World. And the 360 degree view of Rio from the top of Corcovado Mountain is absolutely breathtaking. Although, it’s not surprising to see such a magnificent religious tribute in a city where the majority of the population is Christian.
The sun was behind the monument, so Christ the Redeemer appears to be glowing in the photo.
8. Soccer is a religion in Rio, and soccer players are worshipped.
The city seemingly comes to a standstill during pro soccer games. I happened to come across the FC Sao Paulo soccer team while staying at the Rio Sheraton Hotel & Resort on a Saturday night. The players were swarmed by fans at the hotel despite the semi-secluded location of the property.
9. They sure do love their telenovelas.
Telenovelas, such as Amor A Vida, are overly dramatic prime-time tv soap operas viewed by millions of Brazilians nightly. Beware: telenovelas are highly addictive, and entertaining. Don’t be surprised to see people watching them in bars and restaurants across the city.
10. Riding the city bus is like riding a roller coaster.
As your bus approaches your bus stop, you’ll need to wave at your bus driver to indicate that you’d like him or her to stop the bus at the bus stop. As you walk into the bus and past the bus driver, you will see a seated cashier, who you will pay to ride the bus. Bus rides are usually very bumpy, and packed with commuters. Although, if you’re on a budget, riding the bus is one of your best options for getting around town and seeing the city.
11. Dollars go a long way in Rio.
1 Canadian Dollar (or 1 US Dollar) is worth about 2 Brazilian Reals. While in Rio, simply divide the sales price in half to figure out the approximate price in dollars.
And I thought Canadian dollars were colorful…
12. A taxi ride from the Galileo Airport to a hotel in the Copacabana Beach area should cost you about 50 Reals.
Bus service is also available from the airport; it should cost between 13 and 20 Reals per person for a one-way trip.
13. The water is cold, but the waves are great for surfing.
Rio has beaches for all skill levels, from beginner to advanced.
14. Pickpocketing is common, especially in tourist areas, so be vigilant.
Don’t wear flashy jewelry, unless you want attention. Wear simple clothes and flip flops around town, and don’t carry too much cash. It’s a safe city, but you should be aware of your surroundings.
15. The beach is THE place to be on Sundays, and holidays.
16. You need to speak a bit of Portuguese, or Spanish to get around town easily.
Most hotel employees speak basic English, but it’s not common throughout the rest of the city.
17. Rio’s wide selection of fresh tropical fruit is truly impressive.
Make sure to stop by one of the many juice bars to try a refreshing and unique fruit beverage.
18. Don’t underestimate the power of the Brazilian sun, and don’t forget that UV rays bounce off sand and water.
If you don’t protect yourself from the sun, you’ll surely regret it. On my third day in Rio, I forgot to cover my lower legs with sunscreen, so they were left unprotected for about an hour. I was under a beach umbrella, yet I managed to get an incredibly painful “gringo burn.” It caused a skin infection, intense pain, and swelling, to the point where I couldn’t stand up or walk anymore. Luckily, the swelling decreased after I took an anti-histamine pill, and elevated my legs for several hours. It was definitely a painful lesson I will never forget.
19. Beans & rice are often served with meals.
I really enjoyed the Feijoada (beans and mixed meat stew) at the Belmont Botecco in Copacabana.
20. There’s a beautiful rainforest in Rio.
Yes, you read that right…a tropical rainforest in a major metropolitan city.
21. It’s legal, and common to drink alcohol in public places, so don’t be afraid to step outside of a bar with a drink in hand, or carry a cooler filled with drinks to the beach or local park.
Beer is cheap and ice cold, as it should be! And caipirinha cocktails are served everywhere. A classic caipirinha includes sugar, soda, and cachaca (a rum-like distilled spirit made with sugar cane juice). Keep in mind that you have to pay for water in restaurants and bars, and water can be more expensive than juice, soda, or beer!
Check out the Maria Tiramisu in Brazil Pinterest Board for more photos from my trip to Brazil.
Are you planning to travel to Rio de Janeiro sometime soon? Have you been to Rio before? If so, are there any restaurants or bars you would recommend?
Let me know in the comments section below. Bom dia.
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